A special issue of the annual international journal on women, gender studies, and sexuality Sextant has been co-edited – with Jennifer Bond (UCL) and Chang Liu (CUHK Shenzhen) – by Laming Junior Research Fellow Dr Coraline Jortay. The issue, entitled ‘Precarious peripheries: Gender from the Margins of China’, is available to read online. We asked Dr Jortay about her work.

Please can you tell us a bit about the journal and the questions that this special issue explores?

In this special issue of Sextant, we wanted to explore how gender is being shaped and negotiated from the margins of China, looking not only at geographical margins in the strict sense, but also at physical and intangible spaces that have been understood as marginal by a variety of actors. In this light, the six articles that make up this special issue take readers on a journey from the political margins of China in Hong Kong to diasporic Chinese communities of Mexico City’s popular markets, from alternative spaces within mainstream internet platforms to underground bars within the capital heartland of Beijing, and back to the geographical frontiers of the PRC in Guizhou and Xinjiang. In the same movement, these articles reach beyond margins in their strict geographical sense: to varying degrees, they examine gender with attention to its intersections with age, religion, race, ethnicity, class, labour, and linguistic differences.

You talk about the view from the margins.  How do both geographical margins and marginalisation of identity intersect when seeking to understand gender?

As many of the contributions in our special issue show, they are co-constructive phenomena. One of the driving motivations behind the project was to explore the possible analytical affinities between the intertwined processes of marginalisation that we were observing in our work on modern and contemporary China on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the ground-breaking theoretical work of scholars of colour, and particularly of Black feminist scholars, on intersectionality. In doing this, our aim was to build bridges towards cross-disciplinary and cross-areal dialogues – recognising in equal parts the theoretical potency of these perspectives as conceptual tools for understanding power relations in a Chinese context, as well as the crucial need for attunement to historically-specific and place-specific structures of power.

You are co-founder of the China Academic Network on Gender.  What are the aims of this network?

Created in 2018, the China Academic Network on Gender (CHANGE) brings together researchers from the humanities and social sciences who are dedicated to researching gender issues in China. In particular, our network aims to provide an online community for younger scholars to share ideas and resources, and we organize biennial themed conferences at partner universities to allow postgraduate students and early career researchers to connect to other scholars working in their field and to build academic networks of solidarities. Previous conferences of the network were held in London, Brussels, and Toronto, and we hope to hold one in China at some point in the future.

Can you tell us a bit about your research into the reception of gendered pronouns in China when they were introduced into modern vernacular Chinese in the late 1910s?

Much of my recent research has been devoted to understanding the intersection of language and gender through the sweeping literary innovations and linguistic reforms that swayed much of twentieth century China, and the Sinophone world more widely. To this end, I have been interested both in the debates that followed the “invention” of gendered pronouns in Chinese in the late 1910s, as well as the making of vocabularies of marginalisation in Republican China, as I explore in this recent article that received the Early Career Researcher Prize of the British Association of Chinese Studies.

What’s your next project?

I have been working on two, actually! Both are still firmly rooted in Chinese linguistic and translation history, literature, and gender studies. My current project for the Laming Fellowship investigates how racialised and gendered linguistic hierarchies were enacted and (re)negotiated in late-Qing and Republican-era Chinese literature in the wake of the translation of European orientalist literature, and how those processes intersected with the Othering at play in literature portraying South and Southeast Asian peoples, languages, and scripts. I have also started to explore how these hierarchies played out in the lives of the Chinese interpreters who were enrolled in the French colonial troops and the British Chinese Labour Corps during the First World War. In this context, I have recently helped catalogue for the Bodleian a stunning lace edged silk cushion cover, now part of the Weston Library Special Collections, which I will be talking about during the Fellows’ Coffee Morning at the Bodleian on 17 February 2023.

Where is your favourite place in Oxford?

As a book lover, I really enjoy working in the Queen’s Upper Library, which took my breath away the first time I visited in October 2021, shortly after joining Queen’s! I also really love the peace and quiet of long runs through Port Meadow, Godstow Abbey, and Wytham Woods, which are especially stunning in the spring!